New Testament,  Theology

Do Spiritual Gifts Exist Today? A Look at the Cascade Argument.

There is a big division in the church today about whether or not miraculous spiritual gifts continue today. Many churches affirm that speaking in tongues, prophesying, healings, and the like continue today in like manner to their New Testament manifestation. These Christians are known as continuationists. On the other hand, a cessationist is a Christian who believes that although miracles still happen, God has ceased granting individuals the miraculous abilities mentioned in the New Testament (i.e., tongues, prophecy, healings, etc.). Do such miraculous spiritual gifts exist today?

Although there are a variety of ways one can examine whether spiritual gifts exist today, I often point to what is known as the cascade argument. I was first introduced to the cascade argument by Sam Waldron in his book, To Be Continued? The cascade argument walks through the miraculous spiritual gifts showing that they are connected in purpose and function, and that we can be assured that at least some of the miraculous spiritual gifts are done away with. And if some are done away with, that opens the door for the discussion of how or why other miraculous spiritual gifts are done away with. The argument does like this.

picture of a beautiful cascade, symbolizing the argument against spiritual gifts today

There are no Apostles today.

This is an important starting point, and fairly obvious to anyone who reads Scripture. Although there are apostles in the sense of general “sent ones” (cf. Phil 2:25; 2 Cor 8:23), there is also a clearly defined special group of Apostles. These Apostles were: (1) eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 10:39-41; 1 Cor 9:1; 1 John 1:1-3), (2) directly appointed by Christ (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2; 10:41; Gal 1:1), and (3) were able to confirm their mission through miraculous signs (Acts 2:43; 4:33; 5:12; 8:14; cf. especially 2 Cor 12:12).

This special group of apostles spoke authoritatively for Christ as his representatives (1 Cor 14:37-38; 2 Cor 13:3; 1 John 4:4-6). As such, they were foundational for the building of the church. In Matt 16:18 Jesus promises to build his church (future tense), and Eph 2:20 makes it clear that the Apostles and prophets were essential to that process. It would make sense then, that once the church had been established, the purpose for having Apostles would be fulfilled and they would no longer be necessary. Hence, Paul states that he was the last eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection and thus the last appointed apostle (1 Cor 15:5-9).

Interestingly, in 1 Cor 12:28 Paul lists the gift of Apostle as being the best of the spiritual gifts. However, although Paul encourages seeking the best spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:31), seeking the gift of Apostle is never encouraged. This seems to verify what we would assume from the previous information—that the gift of Apostle is no longer operational. Many who hold to continuationism would agree with this point.

The big takeaway from this point is that if Apostles are spiritual gifts to the church (which they are), and Apostles are no longer operational (which they can’t be given the 3 qualifications), then at least one spiritual gift is done away with (and others could be too).

There are no prophets today.

A prophet is someone who speaks for God. Biblically, a prophet’s message must never contradict Scripture (Deut 13:1-5), and it must always come to pass (Deut 18:15-22). If a prophet’s message does not come to pass, he must die (Deut 18:20), because he is representing God’s very words. A prophet is important because he stands in the place of God and speaks for him (cf. Exod 4:10-17).

Although many proponents for the continuation of miraculous gifts have tried to argue that NT prophecy is different than in the OT (i.e., NT prophets can make mistakes), there is no cogent argument for this assertion, and it is often utilized as an argument from convenience to support what passes for prophecy in many churches today.

Like the Apostles, the prophets were foundational to the start of the church (cf. Eph 2:20). After the church is established, the need for authoritative revelation passed from the Apostles and prophets to the written Scripture.

There are no tongues-speakers today.

The only mention of tongues in the NT is Acts 2, 10, 19, and 1 Cor 12–14. In each of these occurrences, tongues is simply defined as normal human languages which are spoken without the speaker having learned the language. Although some try to argue that 1 Cor 14 speaks of a non-human language gift of tongues, 1 Cor 14:13, 26-28 all refer to interpretation which argues strongly that these would be human languages which could be interpreted. Further, in 1 Cor 14:21 Paul cites Isa 28:11 which confirms that Paul is referencing actual human languages.

However, Paul’s citation of Isa 28:11 is important for another reason as well. By citing Isa 28:11, Paul links the gift of tongues with judgment upon the Jews. In other words, when Jews heard the foreign languages being spoken, it was an authentication that they had rejected their Messiah and were now under judgment. Further, the Gentiles (those who speak foreign tongues) were now going to be spearheading God’s plan of redemption.

Importantly, the gift of tongues seems to be equivalent to prophecy when it is interpreted (1 Cor 14:5; cf. Acts 2:14-18). Thus, making sense of our previous argumentation, if prophecy and tongues are closely equated, it is not surprising that at the same time the Apostles and prophets fade from established church, so too does tongues.

There are no miracle-workers today.

It is important to note that miracles have not ceased (God can intervene whenever and however he wants). But, the divine ability of certain individuals to perform miracles on command is a very rare occurrence. In fact, as I have stated elsewhere, miraculous gifts are tied to the Kingdom of God. Additionally, miracle-workers are tied to role of divine revelation. Note the following:

  • Miraculous signs attested Moses and his message (Ex 4:1-5; Deut 34:10-12)
  • Miraculous signs attested OT prophets and their message (Deut 13:1-5; 18:15-22; 1 Kgs 18:36; Psa 74:9)
  • Miraculous signs attested Jesus and His message (Jn 2:11; 5:36)
  • Miraculous signs attested the Apostles and their message (2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:3-4) [Apostles also had the ability to impart to others the ability to do miraculous signs attested them (e.g., Philip in Acts 8:1-24)].

Importantly, miracle-workers show up whenever God has given a new period of revelation (e.g., Moses, Elijah/Elisha, Jesus, Apostles; the two witnesses in Rev 11). However, since the church has been firmly established and has been given the authoritative NT canon, like the Apostles and prophets, the gift of miracles has passed from the scene until the last days.


The above argument against the belief that miraculous spiritual gifts continue is called the cascade argument. It starts with the fairly universally recognized point that there are no Apostles today. If we understand why the church does not need apostles today, we can also surmise why the church does not need prophets, tongues, or miracle-workers today either.

The attraction of the above argument is that it doesn’t get bogged down on whether or not the “perfect” of 1 Corinthians 13 is the completion of the canon of Scripture or the Second Coming of Christ. It also is based on, what most people are willing to recognize, that the gift of Apostle has been done away with. As such, this argument is quite persuasive for people who are open minded on examining the issues of the continuation of spiritual gifts.

Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs The Bible Sojourner podcast and Youtube channel.


  • D

    Hi Peter, I appreciate your work in the Scriptures putting this all together. I hope you don’t mind but I have a question that I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on.

    You mentioned a few times that all these gifts were, essentially, tied to the establishing of the church and that following said establishment these were no longer needed. Where does scripture make that clear for you? I work in a missional context that is among unreached people groups. Having heard many trustworthy recounts (and myself having seen a few) I might ask if you consider it plausible that God would continue using these types of gifts for establishing the church in an area where the Gospel is not known?

    • Peter Goeman

      Never mind a well-thought question, D. I think reading Eph 2:20 and 4:11 demonstrate the foundation of the church is tied to the gifts of Apostleship and Prophets. 2 Cor 12:12 also links certain gifts/miracles with the apostolic office.

      I think it important to acknowledge God often does miracles, often in missional contexts. My only caveat is that in most of these situations the miracles that occur don’t qualify as biblical sign gifts. For example, God may heal a disease, but not because someone has the gift of laying hands and healing someone. Yet that doesn’t mean it is any less of a miracle. I just think it is important to define biblical gifts as closely to Scripture as possible. This is a whole discussion, obviously, but the short answer is I’m very open to God doing miraculous things. But it seems that the birth of the church was a very special time that was marked by a special dispensation of apostolic sign gifts. Appreciate you reading and the courteous question.

  • Sam

    I recently ordered two copies of Sam Waldron’s book… Thanks for putting together this post laying out the argument, with which I am in full agreement.

  • Mike Sprott

    Peter, the more I read of your material, the more I am encouraged. This is an excellent explanation of the gifts. Thank you.

  • Eric J. Bargerhuff, PhD

    Brilliant, theological reflection, and right on target. Thank you Peter for this excellent blog. I will be using this reference as a must read for my students at the college.

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